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Movies Review

War Of The Worlds

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Released on Sunday, Jul 3 2005

Steven Spielberg’s brutal reworking of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel sees ordinary bloke Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) battle for survival as he tries to take his alienated son Robbie (Justin Chapman) and daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) to Boston to his ex-wife amidst a backdrop of alien invasion.

Heralded by an ominous thunderless lightening storm, a gigantic tripod machine rises from beneath the streets of New Jersey, followed by more in the area, to more over America and over the world. The movie is packed with, but doesn’t have to rely solely upon, excellent special effects. The first sight of the alien machines is truly gripping, and the awe never really wears off. Equally, the result of the machines zapping humans is well done, with people disappearing in a cloud of dust whilst their clothing floats away, avoiding the film turning into the gore-fest it could otherwise have been. The aliens themselves are nicely done too, although they come across more cute than frightening.

Unlike the 1953 Byron Haskin movie inspired by the book (and for that matter Independence Day, which uses much the same template), Spielberg’s movie show the events through the eyes of one family rather than showing the audience the military or governmental take on the situation. This is partly going on the theory that the less we know about the mysterious aliens, the more frightening they are (though the mystery is a little too strong at the end.) The narrow view also allows a much more emotional attachment to and between the characters, which is one of the film’s strongest points.

Bolstering the fear factor is the air of post-9/11 paranoia. The scene where the first tripod rises from beneath the ground mirrors footage of the pandemonium during the collapse of the Twin Towers, only later for Ferrier to be stumbling over the remains of a crashed passenger aircraft that has crushed a neighbourhood. Another touch is the automatic assumption of Ferrier’s children that the initial strange goings-on are the work of terrorists.

All of the cast’s performances are commendable. Tom Cruise’s current media coverage for his relationship with Katie Holmes and his talk on Scientology doesn’t overshadow his worth as an actor, whilst Dakota Fanning’s acting is very impressive, even if she is made to shriek at the drop of a hat. Although giving a competent enough performance, Tim Robbins’ part in the film seems to drag, though this is not all down to him.

The film remains largely flawless until it reaches the last few minutes and its all too abrupt ending. For the previous one and half hours or so we have been treated to tension, wondering about the nature of what is controlling these enormous tripods and what they want. Unfortunately, we never really find out, with the only explanation being hurriedly given by the narrator, who actually seemed much more informative at the beginning of the movie. Aside from the matter of the aliens, the Ferrier family storyline has a typically happy ending, which seems a little out of place.

In conclusion War of the Worlds is almost up there with Spielberg’s best, boasting excellent performances, effects and tension, but is eventually let down by a hurried and insufficient ending.

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